The delayed trial of a convict

Updated on Aug 03, 2009 12:20 AM IST

Manu Sharma is in jail serving a life sentence for murdering model Jessica Lal in 1999. He has challenged the conviction in Supreme Court. But hasn’t got an answer yet — Yes or No — two years since his appeal.

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Hindustan Times | ByPankaj Vohra, New Delhi

Manu Sharma is in jail serving a life sentence for murdering model Jessica Lal in 1999. He has challenged the conviction in Supreme Court. But hasn’t got an answer yet — Yes or No — two years since his appeal.

Every time the case came up as listed, it was given another date. The delay, say eminent legal experts, is a gross violation of the Supreme Court’s own ruling making early hearing mandatory for those in jail.

“Mismanagement of the Supreme Court docket can’t be reason for inflicting injustice,” said legal luminary Rajeev Dhawan, adding, “If speedy trial is not possible he cannot be denied the right to come out on bail.”

Lal was shot dead at the nightclub Qutab Colonade, near Mehrauli, on April 30, 1999, during a party. She was on the waiting staff that night and angered a guest by refusing him a drink after the bar had shut down. That guest was suspected to be Manu Sharma who, as charged, whipped out a gun and shot her.

Sharma was acquitted of all charges by the trial court in February 2006, as it said the prosecution had failed to make its case. State appealed to high court and got the verdict overturned — Sharma was now held guilty of murder.

Sharma went to Supreme Court against the high court ruling on the grounds that it was “dubious and bad in law and took into account statements which were never a part of the trial court records”.

And here is how he has fared so far.

April 2, 2007: The Supreme Court admits an appeal against the high court and a hearing is posted for July 17.

July 17: The appeal comes up for hearing in the court of the Chief Justice and two other Judges — Dalveer Bhandari and R.V. Raveendran. The matter is posted for August 7.

August 7: The appeal was not heard and was given another date, November 27.

November 27: After hearing the counsel, the Court posts the appeal for January 22, 2008.

January 22, 2008: The matter was not taken up as a pending case was being discussed. Two days later, the matter was fixed before another bench for February 12. The bench was also to take up the bail application.

February 12: Another date given: April 2.

April 2: The matter came up before Justices C.K. Thakker and D.K. Jain. The court directed that the bail application be heard on April 11.

April 11: Arguments begin on the bail application, and continue for two days. The bench reserves order on bail, which means hearings are over and the court has to now pronounce its judgment.

May 12: Court rejects Sharma’s bail petition as it was felt that the appeal was going to come up within a measurable distance of time.

October 23: The appeal was listed for hearing, but is passed over when its turn comes up. After that the case was de-listed. And remains de-listed till July 2009.

July 15, 2009: Comes up before the bench of Justices H.S.Bedi and J.M.Panchal who send it back to the court of the Chief Justice of India.

Former Law Minister and legal expert Shanti Bhushan said, “It’s most unfair for any person who is in jail. The application must be heard without any delay.”

Manu Sharma has now spent seven years in jail, including the period from December 18, 2006 onwards when he was held guilty by the High Court.

Experts feel that the case should be decided urgently as the accused was in jail. While the High Court took up the appeal against the trial court within a month and disposed it off in another nine months, the same kind of hurry has not been witnessed in the Apex Court.

“Speedy trial is something the Supreme Court itself has advocated,” said constitutional lawyer Dhavan, adding, “How can it go against its own ruling?”

Meanwhile, Manu Sharma waits behind the bars for the SC to take a view one way or the other. He is looking after the Furniture Factory and the Herbal Garden of Tihar Jail.

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